Reports have emerged from countries severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that obesity may be an important risk factor for a more serious form of the illness. Most people who contract COVID-19 will have a relatively mild illness and go on to make a good recovery. Unfortunately there are a small number of people who develop a more serious infection, requiring hospital admission or even intensive care unit admission with mechanical support for their breathing. Age seems to be the most important risk factor for serious infection, but there is growing evidence that obesity may be the next most important risk factor for serious infection, particularly for those aged under 65.
As well as helping hospital staff to predict who needs closer monitoring, this observation has led to surgeons investigating whether bariatric surgery may help reduce the risk of people developing a serious form of COVID-19 infection. Initial evidence from combining the data from three studies suggests that people who have had bariatric surgery in the past, have a reduced risk of developing a COVID-19 infection that requires hospital admission, mechanical breathing support or death compared with those without a history of bariatric surgery. It is important to acknowledge that this kind of study conducted with administrative databases has lots of possible weaknesses. Our first line of defence against COVID-19 here in Aoteoroa/NZ remains the tireless work of our public health specialists, meticulous hand washing and contact tracing. This data nevertheless provides a ray of hope that more widespread availability of bariatric surgery may be an important tool in reducing the burden of severe COVID-19 infection.